Project Looking Glass
Project Looking Glass, the sting investigation which resulted in Robert Brase's arrest, was created by Post Office Inspector Ray Mack. Mack originally envisioned Looking Glass as an intelligence-gathering operation, with the focus to remain on apprehending distributors. There were no plans to sell or distribute child pornography to anyone.
Administration officials in Washington decided to elevate Looking Glass to the major sting operation it became. Calvin Comfort was a postal inspector whose job was to implement Project Looking Glass in the midwest region. Comfort identified possible targets, wrote advertisements, analyzed responses to dvertisements, and frequently became a "pen pal" to targets who exhibited reluctance to order the pornographic materials. Writing under pseudonyms such as "Carl Long," Comfort employed "mirroring techniques" in which "Long" expressed a shared interest in whatever sexual inclinations his targets' letters revealed. In these letters, Comfort/"Long" emphasized his interest in discreetness. Typical is the language in one of the three letters sent to a sting target: "I agree with you about privacy. I am real discrete [sic] but still our conservative society wants to pry into private lives."
There is no evidence to suggest that Robert Brase or most of the other targets of Project Looking Glass were child molesters or had ever engaged in sexual activity with minors. In fact, the vast majority of persons who exhibit an interest in child pornography pose no threat of committing criminal sexual activity with minors.
The stigma and shame associated with an interest in child pornography led planners of the sting to "expect" suicides, and, predictably, four happened. Gary Hester, like Robert Brase, shot himself just prior to arraignment. Dale Riva committed suicide hours before his indictment was to be announced publicly. Thomas Cleasby left a suicide note stating that he had been "'cursed with a demon for a sexual preference.'"
Left alone, Robert Brase would most likely have continued to lead a quiet life on his Nebraska farm with his two children and his wife of ten years. The world is not a safer place because of his absence. The death of Brase is as random as it is tragic. Brase's decision to order legally a videotape from a California distributor, the government's decision to conduct the raid on that California distributor, the discovery as a result of the raid of the mailing list that included Brase's name, Brase's decision not to move in the years following his videotape order to a new address that might have prevented the fatal solicitation from reaching its target, and Brase's decision to respond affirmatively to the solicitation: Life should not turn upon such things.
would have happened if the
and implementers of Project Looking Glass had, before any of this
visited the Nebraska farmhouse of Robert Brase and talked with
Would Robert Showers, director of the Department of Justice's National
Obscenity Enforcement Unit, still refer to his suicide as an acceptable
risk? Would "Carl Long" have been willing to write the letters
won Brase's confidence and resulted in his mail orders? Would
instead have called the whole thing off?